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Creative Fulfillment Doesn't Come From a Paycheck

When I was four years old I saw my first Broadway show, Annie. I decided right then and there that I was going to be on Broadway by the time I was twelve because the actress playing Annie was twelve and that seemed like a good age to get started. When I was a teenager I learned that there is more to the world of theater than just Broadway. I discovered the job opportunities and travel opportunities that regional theaters had to offer. I became aware of national and international tours and decided that not only was I going to be on Broadway but I was going to work at theaters all over the country, heck, all over the world as well. These theaters would pay me to be in shows, to travel, and the work I did for them would bring me creative fulfillment.

Until recently I didn’t see how wrong I was about that last part. Until recently I only gave myself the opportunity to feel creatively fulfilled when I was working on a contract somewhere. I mistakenly associated creative fulfillment with getting paid to make my art and they are not the same thing. Yes, you can find creative fulfillment and also get paid at the same time but this is merely a correlation, not causation. Thank you eight grade science for teaching me something I would remember over a decade later and use in a blog post to sound all smart and stuff.


Last month overflowed with creative fulfillment and not one of these sources of creative fulfillment offered me one paycheck. Okay, actually, that’s not entirely true. I do feel creatively fulfilled when I choreograph for my students and I do get paid to teach those classes. But it isn’t the money that makes me feel the way I feel. It’s the act of creating choreography that’s inspired by the music, is entertaining to watch, will challenge my students just the right amount, and excite them to want to work on it that fills me up inside. The money merely exists so that I can pay my bills and feed myself but it doesn’t make me feel anything.


Unlike my teaching job, the three performance opportunities I had during the month of April did not pay. However, they were fulfilling in so many ways. Two of them were benefits to raise money for amazing causes. I participated in the Easter Bonnet raising money for one of my favorite organizations, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and danced in a benefit concert to raise money for Heidi Latsky Dance, a “physically integrated company, creating daring work with people with disabilities since 2006” (https://heidilatskydance.org). It’s no secret that volunteering your time for a good cause makes you feel good inside. Knowing that I can use my talents to give back to members of my community makes me feel like I’m contributing to something greater than myself. It makes me feel important. It makes my work feel important.


Finale of the Easter Bonnet. Photo by Jon Esquivel.

And then there’s the act of being in a rehearsal room. For a performer a rehearsal room is a sacred place. It’s a place with all the necessary tools we need to create: a proper dance floor and mirrors for dancers, a piano for a musician or singer, wide open space for anyone who needs it, and a stereo system to blast music. It’s a place free of judgement where you can explore by yourself or with other artists. There are no rules in a rehearsal room unless you come up with rules for yourself. A rehearsal room to a performer is a canvas to a painter. I think we often take this for granted.


But this past month I didn’t take it for granted. I reveled in the magic of being in a rehearsal room with so many talented dancers (more about that in a future post). I valued having creative input, creating characters with interesting lives, backstories, and arcs throughout each piece. I played off my fellow dancers to create relationships with the other characters in the pieces as well. I sweat a lot. My muscles felt sore the way muscles are sore when you first begin to work on any new chunk of choreography. My brain often felt like it was going to explode with the amount of new information it was soaking up. And at the end of each of the three rehearsal processes I got to share this work with a total of five generous audiences. All of this makes for a very happy Becky.


New York State of Mind choreographed by James Kinney at Steps on Broadway. Photo by Alexandra Fung.

I ran into a friend last week who I hadn’t seen in a while. We got to talking about auditioning and the importance of staying happy while you’re navigating this hectic industry. She mentioned that she had seen some of my posts on instagram about the performances I had been involved in recently and how it made her feel inspired to get involved in something similar for herself. She expressed her desire to dance and to perform without having to deal with the whole charade around auditioning for things because going on auditions hadn’t been making her happy.


I totally understand what she means. I told her how happy I had been working on those three projects for the month of April.


“The feeling I have,” I said putting my hand on my heart “is the same feeling I have when I’m out on a contract somewhere.”


Creative fulfillment doesn’t come from a paycheck.

And it doesn’t come from an address either. Does my childhood dream of performing on Broadway still have a place in my heart today? Absolutely. But now I can confidently say that I don’t need to be performing on Broadway to have a wealth of creative fulfillment in my life. All I need is my body, an empty rehearsal room, and some really good tunes.

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© 2014 by Becky Grace Kalman